Why Do Dogs Circle Before Lying Down?

Unlike humans and some other animals that simply plop down when in need of rest, dogs display curious behavior. Dogs first circle their beds or the chosen sleeping spot before lying down. This curious ritual has raised a lot of curiosity among pet owners. The behavior is often compulsive, and canines tend not to sleep until this ritual is complete every single time without fail. Sometimes, they even go a step further to dig an imaginary hole in their bed or pillow or nuzzle the cushion with their head.

In this piece, we dive into the science behind dogs walking in a circle before lying down.

So, why do dogs circle before lying down?

You probably thought buying a new bed for your dog would help him settle down much easier and quicker. Unfortunately, the behavior persisted. You will be relieved to know that there is much more to dogs walking in circles before lying down than just the quality of the bedding. Here are some reasons that will unravel your curiosity:

Hereditary behavior

Historically, dogs and their evolutionary ancestors slept outdoors. In this context, circling served various purposes. Since we are still observing this behavior today in dogs that are sleeping indoors, it indicates that circling is a fixed action pattern. The behavior is a hardwired evolutionary trait that hasn’t evolved out of dogs yet. 

Self Preservation

When making a circle, an animal can survey their surroundings. They can easily get a glance at everything before settling in to ensure there are no predators around them. It is also a way to make a final check on all the family or pack members to ensure they are all safe. In the wild, wild dogs could tell where the wind was coming from when walking in circles, which helped them scent any predators approaching. 

It is also a way to drive away unwanted occupants such as insects and lizards from their sleeping space. 

Getting comfortable

Jamie Richardson, Medical Chief of Staff at Small Door Veterinary in New York City, explains that circling helped trample down any hay, grass, or rough surface into a more comfortable place for sleeping. Even though the beds are comfortable, dogs instinctively try to make their sleeping spots more comfortable by walking in a circle. Tramping on vegetation was also a way for wild dogs to clearly mark a place so that the other pack members knew it was taken.  

Regulating their body temperature

On a hot day, have you noticed your dog digging into the ground before settling in? Creature Counselling Veterinary Animal Behaviour Consultant, Susan B. Krebsbach explains that removing the topsoil exposes cooler soil underneath. Circling and digging are related to this instinct to dig for cooler ground. In cooler climates, dogs circle around then curl into a tight ball to conserve body heat.

Claiming their space

Circling before lying down is also a way for dogs to signal to their pack members that ‘this’ spot is their place. This could be either visual or through scent. Dogs have scent glands in their paws, and circling is a great way to rub their scent around their sleeping area to give a sense of well-being and security for a better night’s sleep. 

When Should You Be Concerned?

Circling before lying down is completely normal behavior for your dog. Is your dog circling excessively? Dogs with neurological or orthopedic conditions may start circling more than they did before. This may be because your dog has a difficult time finding a comfortable sleeping position. Getting your dog an orthopedic bed that cushions their joints and some pain medications can help them get comfortable quicker. 

Excessive circling is also a sign that your dog has anxiety. It is advisable that you consult your vet to discuss the probable cause of anxiety and a solution.

In female dogs, excessive circling coupled with collecting household items such as blankets and toys around their sleeping area could be an indication that your dog is pregnant. Be sure to consult your vet before making any conclusions. 

In a nutshell

It is normal for dogs to walk in a circle before lying down. It is among canine behaviors, and your dog might have inherited the behavior, or he is just comfortable. If your dog does not circle, there is no need to panic since dogs have a pack hierarchy where some dogs are submissive while others are dominants. When you notice your dog circling excessively, displaying abnormal walking like couching, seek professional advice from a veterinarian to rule out any medical concern. 

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